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05-30-2011, 06:30 PM   #1
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What do you really get for all the extra cash?

Hi. (it's going to take a while to get to my question--sorry). I'm fairly new to digital photography and when I had my K1000 all I ever had was the lens it came with. But now that I've had my Kx for a few months, I'm just really getting into the whole thing. Portrait photography seems to be what interests me the most. I now own a few very cheap lenses: a Ricoh 50mm 1.7, the kit lens it came with, a Promaster 70-300, and one of those Helios lenses that are all over ebay. I like the Ricoh and the Promaster, the Helios was a mistake since I'm not a handy man and I can't get it to work right, and I'm lukewarm about the kit lens. I would describe none of them as especially sharp, but I generally like the results from all these lenses, esp. the Promaster.

I am currently lusting after the smc da* 50-135 2.8 ed if sdm telephoto zoom, the da 18-135 3.5-5.6 ed al if dc wr, the 70mm 2.4 da limited, and the smcp-fa 77 1.8 limited. I'm interested in these lenses because I think they would make excellent portrait lenses--BUT they are all so darned expensive!

Here is my question: What do you really get when you pay all that cash for one of the above mentioned lenses? Will my pictures be 500 times better? I'm just not sure what could possibly make one of these lenses that much better than the cheapies I've got. Can anybody try to explain it to me? And if they really aren't worth all that money, what alternative route would make most sense? Thanks, Jim

05-30-2011, 07:14 PM   #2
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QuoteOriginally posted by jjhenders Quote
Here is my question: What do you really get when you pay all that cash for one of the above mentioned lenses? Will my pictures be 500 times better? I'm just not sure what could possibly make one of these lenses that much better than the cheapies I've got. Can anybody try to explain it to me? And if they really aren't worth all that money, what alternative route would make most sense? Thanks, Jim

There is too much to tell you, other then that if it is a stretch finantially, it's not worth it. With tech, you pay 2x for a 10% increase in quality. Only the most involved will even notice these gains. Also, ignorance is bliss.

I suggest you get yourself a zoom or two to cover your focal lengths. If all you want is a good quality portrait lens, I would suggest the FA 50 1.4, or the Tamron 28-75 f2.8. Either of those lenses will run you approximately 300-400 dollars. These lenses give you major bang for your buck.

Trust me, you don't *need* to pay for:

1) Metal construction
2) SDM autofocus motors (silent)
3) Ultra-small optics
4) "Bokeh".
5) Weather sealing

which all of the expensive lenses you listed, are basically concerned with.
05-30-2011, 07:43 PM - 1 Like   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by paperbag846 Quote

1) Metal construction
2) SDM autofocus motors (silent)
3) Ultra-small optics
4) "Bokeh".
5) Weather sealing

which all of the expensive lenses you listed, are basically concerned with.
Nope. The lenses the OP listed (other than the 18-135) are about performance. The items listed are just bonuses.

My advice to the OP is this: 1.) Get your technique down to where you know how to take a good portrait. 2.) Borrow or rent one of the lenses you listed (again, other than the 18-135 as it's just not in the same class as the others) and see for yourself the difference. If you can't see the difference, repeat step one.

The point is that there is a difference. Spend some time here at PF looking at portraits that impress you and see what lens made them. There's a connection, there. I'm not saying it's impossible to take a good portrait with a cheap lens, but it is harder.
05-30-2011, 07:58 PM   #4
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Many of the dollars goes toward the larger and/or constant aperture.

05-30-2011, 08:05 PM - 1 Like   #5
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What do you really get when you pay all that cash for one of the above mentioned lenses?

Quality, both optically and build

Will my pictures be 500 times better?

No. Not even close - think of the law of diminishing returns. They do, however, render images uniquely and produce aesthetically pleasing results that cheaper lenses are less capable of creating.

I'm just not sure what could possibly make one of these lenses that much better than the cheapies I've got. Can anybody try to explain it to me?

As above. Look at the DA* and limited lens club threads comparing them to the kit lens club images, and see for yourself.

And if they really aren't worth all that money, what alternative route would make most sense?

Go with quality manual focus lenses that have good optical qualities and are a lot cheaper, such as the Helios or Takumar series lenses. Check the lens review database for more info and user reviews on these.
05-30-2011, 08:13 PM   #6
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What problems do you have with the Helios? It is not usually considered a troublesome lens.

Many lenses are not exceptionally sharp when the aperture is wide-open. Your kit lens is nicely sharp when stopped down to f/5.6-f/16. So is the Helios. Many lenses for portraits are deliberately soft-ish when wide open, so that all the warts and creases and acne scars don't show, and so the background disappears into a pleasant blur. But if you want sharp, try boosting your ISO to 800, and stopping-down to f/8-f/11.

paperbag846's suggestions are right-on, if you feel the need for autofocus. An inexpensive used AF lens that I find excellent for people-shooting is the F35-70/3.5-4.5. This can often be found on old Pentax cameras on eBay for well under US$50. As with other slower and stopped-down lenses used for portraiture, the trick is to be sure the background is distant or otherwise unobtrusive.

If you are happy with your Ricoh 50, then you're probably comfortable with manual focus. Many good cheap manual lenses are available used. Unfortunately, neither MF nor AF lenses in the 'hot' headshot range of 70-105mm are inexpensive, usually. For sharpness, a 90-105mm macro lens can't be beat, and used MF macros in that range sometimes aren't too costly. If you are comfortable working a little further from your subjects, many great cheap 135/2.8's can be found. A 135/2.8 has thinner DOF (prized for portraits) than a much more expensive 85/2 or 77/1.8.

What do you get with higher-priced lenses? Ease of use, somewhat. Quality that may not be visible unless you're making LARGE prints that will be closely inspected. Bragging rights. Indebtedness. If photography is your job, the costs are inconsequential. But I like cheap used manual primes (and a few zooms) that can pull off most of the tricks of costlier lenses.
______________________________________________

A note on sharpness: Presentation is PARAMOUNT! How an image is displayed can be much more important than how it was created. I've just been looking at some major paintings and photos in galleries and museums in Santa Fe NM (my month here is almost over, alas!) and many of them look much better in reproduction, or behind glass, than do the originals displayed naked, viewed from 6 inches away. Try this: Print one of your less-than-satisfactorily-sharp pictures at 8x10 inches. Frame it in a 16x10 matte, glassed. Hang it. Await the responses.

Last edited by RioRico; 05-30-2011 at 09:31 PM.
05-30-2011, 08:30 PM   #7
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One thing you get for you money is wider apertures and more selective focus, if that's important for the pictures you take. I'd be reluctant to buy the more expensive lenses purely for image quality, particularly at more modest apertures.

Paul
05-30-2011, 08:49 PM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by DogLover Quote
The point is that there is a difference. Spend some time here at PF looking at portraits that impress you and see what lens made them. There's a connection, there. I'm not saying it's impossible to take a good portrait with a cheap lens, but it is harder.
My major issue with what you say is that portraiture is very dependent on lighting, not lens quality. People take killer portraits on a regular basis with pretty hum-drum lenses because they know how to light and stage their subject.

Focal length is important, but only so far as you don't want to make your subject look like a clown. If you go long, it's easy to get smooth bokeh from an * undesirable* lens.

Here's an example how how cheap you can go and still get good results... focal length is *everything*. This is the Takumar (non SMC) Bayonet 80-200 f4.5 lens. I think I shot it at 5.6 but I don't remember. Likely 80mm focal length.

I paid 30 dollars for this lens... and I certainly *overpaid*. It is a POS by many standards.

There are many gains by investing more, but my suggestion would be a moderate priced lens between 50mm and 80mm, or a zoom that goes in there, that is as fast as possible. I think the Tamron 28-75 might be the best, because sometimes you don't have enough room to walk around, and that lens is pretty damn good (regardless of the price paid). At 75mm you would be able to take portraits that would put this example to *shame*.

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05-30-2011, 09:15 PM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by paperbag846 Quote
My major issue with what you say is that portraiture is very dependent on lighting, not lens quality. People take killer portraits on a regular basis with pretty hum-drum lenses because they know how to light and stage their subject.

Focal length is important, but only so far as you don't want to make your subject look like a clown. If you go long, it's easy to get smooth bokeh from an * undesirable* lens.

Here's an example how how cheap you can go and still get good results... focal length is *everything*. This is the Takumar (non SMC) Bayonet 80-200 f4.5 lens. I think I shot it at 5.6 but I don't remember. Likely 80mm focal length.

I paid 30 dollars for this lens... and I certainly *overpaid*. It is a POS by many standards.

There are many gains by investing more, but my suggestion would be a moderate priced lens between 50mm and 80mm, or a zoom that goes in there, that is as fast as possible. I think the Tamron 28-75 might be the best, because sometimes you don't have enough room to walk around, and that lens is pretty damn good (regardless of the price paid). At 75mm you would be able to take portraits that would put this example to *shame*.
Did you read this part of my post?

I'm not saying it's impossible to take a good portrait with a cheap lens, but it is harder.
05-30-2011, 09:25 PM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by jjhenders Quote
I am currently lusting after the smc da* 50-135 2.8...
I would avoid that lens along with any lens that has SDM. SDM is painfully slow and unreliable; it comes with an equally pathetic warranty. There are countless complaints here and elsewhere dedicated to the to these very issues.
05-30-2011, 09:31 PM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by DogLover Quote
I'm not saying it's impossible to take a good portrait with a cheap lens, but it is harder.
It's really a point and shoot situation...
05-30-2011, 09:44 PM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by JHD Quote
I would avoid that lens along with any lens that has SDM. SDM is painfully slow and unreliable; it comes with an equally pathetic warranty. There are countless complaints here and elsewhere dedicated to the to these very issues.
Dismissing the 50-135 solely because it has an SDM motor would be a huge mistake IMO. In addition, "painfully slow (AF)" is a bit of an exaggeration. That said, I am certainly not suggesting that the OP should ignore the possibility of having SDM issues, either within or outside the warranty. I am merely suggesting that for many people, the "pros" of the DA*50-135 vastly outweight the "cons" and for those people the DA*50-135 is an excellent option.
05-30-2011, 10:05 PM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by JHD Quote
SDM is painfully slow and unreliable
This is been said ad nauseum but is quite misleading.
It is only slightly slower than screwdrive, and only unreliable at times for infinity focus (in my experience). SDM failures are a separate issue, but again is not to be avoided on account of this issue alone. Extend the warranty on the lens and you have the best zooms covered for many years of shooting to come.
05-30-2011, 11:40 PM   #14
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For portraits my K55/2.0 is my second best lens.
It was only 25 euro's. K1000 body included.
You do''t need ultra sharp in 90% of the cases.
Just fairly sharp, nice rendering and F2.0 or F1.8.
05-31-2011, 01:32 AM - 1 Like   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by jjhenders Quote
Here is my question: What do you really get when you pay all that cash for one of the above mentioned lenses?
Another possible way to look at it:

Hypothetical -

If you were going to pay to have a series of portraits done of your wife and your choice was...

1. A photographer technically competent with the best gear but no special competence as a portrait photographer...

...or...

2. A photographer with a well established record as an excellent portrait photographer using, say, just the the kit lens.

Which one would most likely produce over-all the most satisfying final images for this particular purpose?
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